FLORENCE — A decision could be made early next month whether to pursue building a tennis complex in Veterans Park as part of an agreement on a tourist attraction with the Retirement Systems of Alabama.
Several proposals for an attraction in the riverfront park have been considered and discarded during the past decade.
The latest — a tournament-quality tennis complex — is being scrutinized by local officials and representatives from the Retirement Systems of Alabama.
The RSA and local governments formed an economic development partnership about 10 years ago that included construction of the four-diamond Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa, refurbishment of the conference center, construction of two Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail courses and a revolving restaurant atop the Renaissance Tower.
Part of the agreement was for Florence to build a tourist attraction in Veterans Park to help fill rooms at the adjacent Marriott, but the Tennessee Valley Authority, which owns the park property, has balked at most of the proposals. The city’s lease with TVA for the park states it must be used for public recreation.
Florence City Council President Dick Jordan said he met with representatives from RSA last week to begin deciding whether the tennis complex is financially feasible.
“We want to see if a tennis complex is a viable option for the city and for RSA,” he said. “We hope to know something in a month.”
The estimated cost of building an indoor-outdoor complex is $10 million.
The Public Park Authority was established when Retirement Systems of Alabama CEO David Bronner formed the partnership with governments in Colbert and Lauderdale counties. The local contribution to the partnership is a 2-cent fuel tax used to retire bonds that are paying for some of the work. Part of that money — $2 million — is earmarked for infrastructure work in Veterans Park for the tourist attraction. Any cost beyond that will be the responsibility of the city of Florence and any partner that chooses to take part.
Colbert County Commissioner Rex Burleson is chairman of the Public Park Authority board. He said he took part in last week’s discussion about the tennis complex, but the final decision about whether to proceed lies solely with Florence.
“This is a $10 million project, so I’m not going to say what will happen because it is all up to Florence,” he said.
“Nothing has been decided yet, but there is a Dec. 10 meeting planned. A decision is possible then.”
Jordan said the city will ask the University of North Alabama to participate in the project, but so far the university has not made a commitment.
Other tournament-style public tennis complexes in Alabama have fared well. Both Auburn and Dothan officials say their complexes have economic impacts ranging from $100,000 per event to $2 million annually.
Proponents of the tennis venue in the Shoals say the facility could attract major amateur tennis tournaments throughout the year.
Plans include indoor and outdoor courts.
Robert Palmer can be reached at 256-740-5720 or robert.palmer@TimesDaily.com.